People Who Don’t Believe In God Outnumber Atheists More Than 2 To 1 In New York
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has an interesting new report out this week. It updates a 2007 survey the organization did to try to measure the relative numbers of people with different beliefs about religion and religious identity.
I’ll be writing some more about the results of the new report in the coming days, but this afternoon, there’s one particular item from the study that I want to focus on, because it gets to the question of what the report describes. It gets to that question, but it doesn’t answer it.
Here’s the item I’m talking about: In the state-level breakouts of religious identification, the Pew report says that 5 percent of people in the state of New York are atheists. On the other hand, the same section of the report says that 12 percent of people in the state of New York don’t believe in God.
The thing is, an atheist is a person who doesn’t believe in God.
This is the question that this item provokes: How can there be more than twice the number of people who don’t believe in God than there are atheists?
One possible answer among many is that to declare oneself an “atheist” is a statement of positive identity, involving more than just lack of belief in God. Perhaps there are aspects of being “atheist” besides not believing in God that many New Yorkers don’t want to associate themselves with.
If this is the case, it suggests that there are many ways of not believing in God, and that being “atheist” is just one of them – a minority identity among people who don’t believe in God.
That’s just one interpretation, however. Can you think of another?